Conflict zones and Rape. Rape as a weapon of War.
At the heart of every society, is its innate desire and ability to survive, procreate and protect the dignity of all its people, regardless of age, gender and political affiliation. A society must survive, this explains why the vulnerable in any community like women and children attract special attention during war or in conflict zones. The vulnerability of women and children is not only brought to light during times of conflict, but also in each and every second of our lives. Globally, rape or sexual violence as a weapon of war has been widely condemned, both in policy and law. When conflict prevails, lawlessness rules. This forces most of the actors to disregard human rights of all kind. International law has evolved to the extent that war crimes are clearly defined. The Rome statute which binds the International Criminal Court defines rape broadly, accommodating a lot more of war actions that may be used as weapons of a sexual nature during war. The notes of the statute provide as follows in relation to rape;
“The perpetrator invaded the body of a person by conduct resulting in penetration, however slight, of any part of the body of the victim or of the perpetrator with a sexual organ, or of the anal or genital opening of the victim with any object or any other part of the body. The invasion was committed by force, or by threat of force or coercion, such as that caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power, against such person or another person, or by taking advantage of a coercive environment, or the invasion was committed against a person incapable of giving genuine consent.”
UNICEF has been particular in documenting acts of this nature. Consider different wars, in different continents, a lot has been witnessed and devastating acts have endangered societies to the core. According to UNICEF, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war in countries like Cambodia, Bosnia – this involved the motive of ethnic cleansing, In Uganda, the case of Aboke girls, who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in 1996 is still fresh in many people’s memories. Over 130 girls were abducted. Their dreams of attaining decent education were quashed. Looking at the Lord’s Resistance Army outfit, all this was done in order to humiliate societies they attacked. They took these girls to forcefully keep as wives and to provide sexual pleasure to most of their battle hardened rebels. As a result, such abductions instilled fear in many of the clan societies in Northern and Eastern Uganda. The rebels had chosen to fight their war by attacking school going girls, a vulnerable group in the clan societies that clansmen had struggled to collectively keep in school. Such acts are very brutal and demonizing. The fact is, rape leaves permanent scars deep inside the victim’s mind, soul and body. It does not end at that, in most cases, those that resist sexual advances are murdered under the watch of other abductees, to serve as examples to the rest of the victims.
As long as acts of rape during war are committed, there will be several effects on the victims, their families and the societies at large. Victims are shunned by their families and communities and many become pregnant as a result of their rapes. In some societies people will shun the victims and judge those instead of rehabilitating and helping them settle in again. In most post conflict societies, victims of rape have been forced to leave their home areas to settle in unfamiliar territory, for their own safety.
Rape leaves a permanent reminder of war and of the enemy through the birth of a child, which places both the mother and child in continual victimization and isolation. The disparity of the age of the victims only solidifies the weapons used to destroy, for the age range of female victims is from infancy to the elderly. Women and girls have been primarily targeted due to the extensive acceptance of gender based violence. Victims are often raped multiple times and gang raped, which can cause a much higher degree of physical and physiological injuries, and often lead to death. Due to unwanted pregnancies, many women who have abortions through non-medical methods in the jungles risk death or infections in war zones where access to adequate medical care is a myth. All these plant reminders in the society and in the victims which keeps them caged under isolation. Victims of gang rape often give birth to children whose fathers they are not sure of.
Physical injuries may include gynecologic, rectal, and internal hemorrhaging. Rapists in such instances may use any object to meet their target. With sexually transmitted diseases prevailing in such situations, the world must know that rape during war is one of the conduits of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. This is incurable and has long term effects on the victims in a manner that may force them to take their own lives. The children born under such circumstances may not survive the transmission. The longest lasting effect of rape as a weapon of war is the number of children it bears, carrying different defects and infections. Thousands of children have been born due to rape during war. There are no true statistics on the number of children born as a result of rape as weapon in each conflict. Women may be forced to carry several unwanted pregnancies, like a testimony given by one woman, recorded by Williams and Lamont from East Timor. She had four children all born of rape.
The mother of a child born of rape faces a lifetime of turmoil over the conception, regardless of her decision to raise the child, give the child up for adoption or terminate the pregnancy. A mother who keeps a child is often tormented and pulled between feelings of love and hate. These feeling of hate or shame of the victims own child thus only torment a mother more as she then feels guilt for having such thoughts about her own child. In other instances, victims often beg for death over rape, reports of the brutal killings and mutilation tell stories of atrocious suffering before the victim is murdered. Gruesome acts are often carried out in front of family members, such as the torture and mutilation one mother witnessed.
Traumatized and scarred as they feel helpless and in many ways responsible for the attacks. There have also been many instances of rape among those who are pregnant, most often these brutal rapes end in miscarriages, therefore it could be charged that infanticide was also committed due to the use of rape as weapon.
Many children are never adopted and orphanages in conflict zones are often flooded with babies, as a conflict or post-conflict country leaves many who would be willing to adopt unable to due to instability, and/or poverty, thus the burden is placed on the state. As reported by CNN, More than ten years after rape was used as a weapon of war in the former Yugoslavia, the questions and impact is only beginning to emerge. Children who spend their lives in orphanages or foster homes, are more susceptible to sexual and mental abuse. Many of these children are turned away once they reach 16 or 18, with little education, money or support and are thus not only prone to abuse, but poverty and homelessness. Those who adopt children are faced with decision to tell their child the truth behind their birth, which can then lead to trauma and a sense of guilt on the adoptive parent. This can manifest into guilt, viewing their self as a source of misery, a mistake, tainted, and even often as evil as they see themselves as genetically connected to their rapist father and thus often feel they are predisposed to violence. Hate of what the man that fathered them and did to their mother can also manifest into anger. The social stigma placed on both the mothers and children who are born as a result of the use of rape as a weapon of war only exemplifies the problem that international law fails to recognize the offense of forced maternity on behalf of the mother, or any offense with respect to the child as noted by Rimmer in the 2006 edition.
Rape as a weapon of war affects not only the victim, but places all women and girls in fear of sexual violence. Fear dominates the daily life of all woman and girls who are living in a conflict zone. Like it was in Northern Uganda for a long time. This continual fear leaves victims in constant torment and mental anguish, which causes increased long-term psychological stress and damage. A victim traumatized by the lingering threat of rape, is often too afraid to leave the home to work and lives in constant fear, as with one who is ostracized by their community. This changes not only the internal dynamics of their family, but the economic and social well-being of their entire family. Children afraid to walk to school effect both their and their countries literacy levels. The violence and brutality of the use of rape as weapon of war does not begin or end with the rape itself, victims are most often beaten, and in many cases physically mutilated. Mutilations include: cutting off of lips and ears, blinding victims so they cannot identify their attackers, amputations of limbs, and mutilations of genitalia.
Impunity regarding the increasingly brutalized use of rape as a weapon of war combined with its effectiveness, only provokes its use, for the perpetrators are less likely to be tried and punished for the use of this weapon, and if convictions do follow, the punishment is disproportionate to the crime. Therefore, the urgent need to actually put in place effective actions that will effectively deter the use of rape or any other kind of sexual offense during war. We as a global village need to desist from looking at war as a means of solving conflicts and look for other ways that will protect and respect the dignity of all members of the society. Lastly, societies and responsible entities in nations should commit to helping victims regardless of the time, just like the Red Cross/Crescent does during war time.